What startup hiring looks like in 2021 — and during a pandemic

by Ryan Choi1/17/2022

When we first created Work at a Startup in 2018, our goal was to eliminate friction in finding a job at a startup. Our initial thesis was to build a common application to apply to many YC companies at once. It quickly became the most efficient way to meet multiple founders and have a more natural conversation to find a job.

Since then, we’ve collected a lot of data about the startup job landscape, and the changing needs of both job seekers and our founders. We wanted to share some trends we’ve seen over the last year that show where we’ve been – and inform where we’re going as a product.

Startup hiring was resilient amid a volatile 2021

The number of jobs on our platform exploded in 2021 with 7,300 jobs posted – even despite the uncertainty of a global pandemic. That was 4.5x growth from the prior year, and 10x from when we started. And now, there are over 1,200 startups across a wide range of industries: tech, bio, logistics, media, and many more.

Part of this growth has to do with our increased batch sizes. But another part is a reflection of the resilience and adaptability of our startups. While hiring nearly stopped at the beginning of the pandemic (much to our guidance of frugality and “being a cockroach”), our startups came back strong. And by September 2020, we saw a record number of hires.

It is equally important to us to do right by job seekers: we’ve spent countless hours vetting startups and founders to make sure each one is in a great position to hire – well funded, early traction, and clarity of what to build next. The result of which is a job platform that showcases some of the most resilient and business-minded startups you’ll find anywhere.

Digital nomads are the new startup workforce

While 2020 was the year of WFPJs1, 2021 was when digital nomads became a real thing. Last year, a massive 82% of job seekers on the platform looked for remote work – up from 15-20% pre-pandemic. Startup jobs also moved in the same direction: remote jobs grew 6.4x in the last year, and now 69.5% of all jobs are remote or remote-friendly.

Not surprisingly, the changing landscape meant that our startups looked worldwide for talent: hires were made in over 40 countries. And while the common belief is that companies hire abroad to lower costs, we’ve already started seeing the opposite. Some of our international startups are hiring US-based talent in IC and even leadership positions.

Lastly, our smaller startups (< 50 people) were quicker to adapt to remote, moving to fully remote a good 6+ months ahead of our larger ones. With better HR infrastructure like Deel and Pilot, both tools to onboard and pay employees wherever they are, we expect our startups to continue to adapt to the changing landscape.

Waiting for founders to contact you isn’t always the best way

Last year, we saw a whopping 150,000 messages sent on our platform, at a 4.5x YOY growth. 53% of first contact messages were sent by a founder to a job seeker. And our founders are equally responsive to interested candidates: some companies kept up a 60% response rate to inbound applications.

One thing we’ve learned, however, is that job seekers with high agency made it happen: 25% of new hires in 2021 were initiated by the candidate. To help them, we need to give more signals and tools to help them find “the one” — by size, funding, team makeup, and even the interview process. On that last point, our team works hard to teach founders how to hire with transparency and candidate experience top of mind, and we aim to build this more into the platform.

How can we help in 2022?

At YC, we tell founders to make something people want. We operate by this same mantra at YC’s Work at a Startup, and we’re seeing early signs of success – 600 people found jobs through our platform last year, at a clip of 1.5 per day. While that’s a drop in the bucket for larger companies, we know that a great hire at an early startup can be transformative – and be the difference maker in building the next Instacart or Dropbox.

And while it’s easy to just monitor metrics, building this platform has become closer to my heart. My own friends and former colleagues have found jobs on the platform: first a designer at a pre/seed startup, then an engineering manager at a Series C growth company, and later a CTO of a biotech startup. Similarly, our founders trust us to help build their teams. Yin Wu, founder at Pulley, called our hiring platform “one of the best things about YC.” That’s high praise, and we aim to help out even more.

Reflecting on 2021, we are thankful for every single person who has given us a shot — checked out the site, met with founders, possibly found a job, or even just sent us an email for feedback.  We’re still learning, and we’re here to build the best way for you to find your next job — and just maybe something as resilient as our most enduring startups.

1 Work from pajamas


  • Ryan Choi

    Ryan works with YC companies to find great engineers — from 2-person startups to larger ones like Airbnb, Stripe and Instacart.